Potomac Nationals stadium runs afoul of neighbors

October 1, 2012

Fans of the Potomac Nationals have long felt as though they were in the wilderness.

The Class A minor league team has played at the G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium in Woodbridge for decades, and the metal seats, poor sight lines and lack of food vendors have sometimes rankled fans. The team has searched for a new location since the 1990s, and it often seemed that no deal was in sight.

Now, the team is close to building a $25 million stadium in Prince William County. County officials are united behind the idea for an about 5,000-seat stadium as part of the Stonebridge at Potomac Town Center, just off Interstate 95 in Woodbridge. They are pitching the new development as a win-win, especially because the Virginia Department of Transportation plans to build a $15 million, 1,000-space commuter parking lot. The project’s developer, District-based Roadside, plans to kick in $30 million for site work.

But Thursday, many of the 50 or so residents who attended a public forum in nearby Freedom High School hoped to throw cold water on the idea. They said the project would worsen traffic on already congested roads. And they worry about fans wandering into neighborhoods.

As P-Nats owner Art Silber, developers and county officials presented detailed plans to the audience, Joe Lederman seethed. He said he lives nearby.

“This is a dog-and-pony show,” Lederman, 33, said. “This is a foregone conclusion.”

But county officials stressed that the meeting was just the beginning of the process; the proposal will go before the Planning Commission and eventually the Board of County Supervisors.

Silber offered some details, including renderings of the luxury suites, and said he is looking to sell the naming rights to the stadium.

Selena Burroughs, 36, of Woodbridge said the county has plenty of “extracurricular” activities. What about high-paying jobs?

“A stadium’s nice, but is it needed?” she asked.

Burroughs said officials seemed excited about the prospect. “It sounds like they’re gung-ho for it.”

Other concerns were about Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center, a major regional hospital across the street from the proposed site, and whether ambulances would have appropriate access.

Developers and officials said that they are working with the hospital and others. Although every development brings potential negatives, developers have a responsibility to ensure they are mitigated, they said.

Bill Petrak, who lives near the proposed stadium, said he has become increasingly skeptical of developers. Because traffic studies are often funded by developers, he questioned whether they can be trusted. He also questioned campaign contribution from developers and the P-Nats to county supervisors.

“I’m not saying it’s crooked,” Petrak said. “But I’m very concerned with what’s going on in this community.”

“If you think I could buy a vote from [Supervisors] Maureen Caddigan, John Jenkins or Corey Stewart, you don't know them,” Silber said.

Developer Richard Lake of Roadside said he and other officials take the concerns about safety and traffic seriously. The rest of the Stonebridge development, anchored by a Wegmans grocery store, has proved very popular, and he said developers would ensure the stadium was the right move.

“We are at the beginning stages,” Lake said. “This is the first step, not the last step.”

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